Aug 03 2008
Emerging from the Myst: Ambassadors in the land of the little ones
This post follows on from the first in my series of reflections about using the PC adventure game Myst in the classroom. In this post I will look back on how our Year 5 children worked with the Year 2 classes in supporting their own Myst literacy unit. I also welcome a school colleague Gemma Coleman, one of the Year 2 classteachers involved in the project, who has kindly taken some time to reflect on her own experiences of using the game – you can see Gemma’s contribution a bit further on in this post.
As I mentioned previously the inspiration for working with Myst has come from Tim Rylands, however much of the finer details of how we might use the game has come from the exploratory work documented by Learning and Teaching Scotland. In their accounts of the game they give plenty of details about the use of the game in the classroom with much needed reflection. They also present the idea of using the game with pairs of younger and older children together. The older children guiding the early years pupils in their writing and exploring the game together. It was from this exposition that I began planning an element of collaboration in our own project. Through conversation with the Key Stage 1 literacy coordinator we decided to explore the ideas further together – I would strongly suggest looking at what LTS has done and consider teaming up with a younger age class if you can.
4 week 2 week
In order for the children in my year group to feel comfortable acting as an expert our Myst unit ran for 2 full weeks before we began working with the year 2s. This is very important as it gave the children time to explore the game themselves and experience understanding the plot and layout of the different levels. Although we spent 4 weeks working with Myst we only had 3 sessions with the younger children. They conducted their own literacy unit with just a single copy of the game and the visits I have mentioned from us. Our own unit could have continued for much longer and initially was planned for a shorter period but I adapted it as it progressed.
I had this image in my head of the children in Harry Potteresque cloaks walking solemnly, probably by torchlight, with the laptops in their outstretched arms (carrying them correctly of course) to the classes of Year 2 and arriving with great mystery and intrigue. I know that sounds strange but that’s the way my mind works, seems like the mystique surrounding the game got to me! We didn’t need the cloaks nor the torchlight in the end. But we did travel with the game to the other classes and it worked out far better then we could have imagined.
I split my class into two groups and took 15 or so down to the Year 2 class whilst the remainder got setup with Angie our TA. The children were responsible for getting their set of equipment ready, for a Myst Ambassador needs: a copy of the game, laptop, headphones, mouse and a map of J’Nanin (one of the first Ages or levels the children can explore). Once I arrived in Year 2 and the Year 5s had paired off with the Year 2s, I took the remainder of the younger children back to my own class and their adventure began.
Mantle of the expert
In order for the younger children to make the most of the sessions they needed the older pupils guiding and helping them in the correct manner. It was lovely to see how some of the children in my class reacted to working with the 7/8 year olds. The children were in a different role, perhaps out of their comfort zone a little, and they responded really well. They took on the mantle of being the one with the most knowledge and helped and guided the Year 2s in their use. I spent some time helping my classes understand what the role will entail and how best to approach it, the important sense of taking a back seat to the action and guiding their partners to discoveries of their own.
Speaking and communication
In hindsight I think I will place a greater emphasis on the language, speaking and communication that occurs between the pairs of children as opposed to the primary focus on written outcomes. In much of the work the Year 5s did in support of the Year 2s was towards a written outcome, such as helping them to record vocabulary for the different scenes. But there is such rich evidence of speaking and listening in the encounters between the pairs. I would strongly suggest keeping this in mind if you embark on something similar. I would certainly like to just listen and record some of their responses and moments of supportive guidance or curiosity that occur.That is certainly one big change for next time – it is not all about the writing!
Anyway enough from me as I would like to introduce Gemma Coleman who is currently a Year 2 classteacher at our school and one of the teachers I worked with in this unit. Gemma has kindly agreed to share her own thoughts on using the game in the classroom.
When my Year 2 colleague and I were first told about the possibility of using the games-based-learning approach in the classroom, I must admit our first thoughts were “its nearly the end of the academic year, we have just gone through SATs, it sounds like a lot of hard work!”
However, the more Tom told us about the game – Myst – the more our ideas began to develop and our interest turned to intrigue.
After an initial “ideas” meeting with Tom, myself and Cathy (our other Year 2 teacher) we decided that the game would be a great way of stirring the children’s imaginations in Literacy – particularly as this year group is very boy heavy, and we are always looking for ways to grab their interest and encourage them to focus on the task in hand.
Cathy and I took the opportunity to observe Tom teaching his own Year 5 class, using the Myst game through literacy, and it really helped to see the game “in action”. The children were brainstorming adjectives to describe a scene in the game and it seemed to really fire their imaginations. The breadth of language they used was fantastic and it was obvious to see that every child was on task and focussed on what they had been asked to do – in fact the Year 5′s were so engrossed in the game, they hardly even noticed we were there!
In Year 2 we had already planned on teaching a narrative unit, and an instructions unit in our last term of Literacy. We decided that we would try and use Myst to incorporate both of these units and discussed some initial ideas – however, as this was a completely new approach to literacy, our plans were quite organic, evolving throughout the unit as new inspirations and ideas were generated along the way.
We decided that we would roll out the unit over a 2-week period, allowing for longer if needed. With our ideas flowing, we were ready to bring Myst to Year 2!
We decided to use “Awe and Wonder” as an introduction to Myst and simply provided the children with a wooden chest containing various artefacts. We were careful not to give the children too many details initially as we wanted them to really use their imaginations and generate their own ideas as to what we could possibly be doing/looking at. The children explored the artefacts, which included a pink crystal, a small padlocked box, a map of a place called J’nanin, a letter, a book and a globe stand. These were passed around for the children to feel and look at and they were given a few minutes to discuss with their peers what these items could be for. We did initially intend to introduce the game at the end of this lesson, but the children generated so many ideas that we decided to list some of these on the Interactive Whiteboard and leave it there, ready to lead into the next day’s lesson.
Over the next few lessons the game was introduced – we showed the children the video clip at the beginning of the game – which they were completely mesmerised by – and this was used as a basis for some descriptive writing. We wrote adjectives to describe the setting of the game and discussed/wrote about the characters we had met so far, and what part they might play in this adventure story – we even used some drama, acting out scenes from the game.
As Tom mentioned in his own blog entry, his class of Year 5′s came to Year 2 as ambassadors for the game and each Year 5 paired up with a Year 2 child. They worked together brilliantly, with the Year 5′s showing the Year 2′s how to navigate through the game, giving advice, support and using excellent language – while promoting independence by the Year 2.
Later in the module, the Year 5 children worked with the Year 2′s again to help them solve a “barrel puzzle”. This part of the game was used in line with our work on “Instructions”. The Year 2 children had a written outcome of writing instructions on how to solve the barrel puzzle, using clear direct instructional language. Again, this collaboration between Years 5 and 2 worked brilliantly, with some excellent instructions being produced.
Our grand finale for the Myst module was to inspire the children to write a suitable and fitting “ending” to the Myst story. After nearly 2 weeks of exploring and playing the game the children had really gotten into the story and had a really good knowledge of the settings and characters involved.
As it was nearly the end of the Summer Term we tried to make the written activity as interesting as possible – as i’m sure any teacher will know, children’s interest in academic activities can start to wane at this time of year! – therefore, instead of simply providing a written story in their extended writing books, we provided the children with “zig-zag” booklets, which they wrote in a comic-book style, with colour illustrations and speech bubbles. The children loved these, and took great pride in writing and drawing exciting endings to their Myst adventures.
Since using the Myst game as a module for literacy, my Year 2 colleague and I have been asked many times whether we would recommend games-based-learning, and whether we would do it again. Our answer to this would be a definite YES! It has undoubtedly been a learning curve, and there are probably a couple of things that we would do slightly differently – as there always is with a new resource or approach to learning – but in general this form of exploration of a mythical world proved to be an excellent way of really firing children’s imaginations, and in my opinion, the interactive nature of this approach stirred their interests to a much greater degree than a simple text book might have done. The quality of some of the children’s written literacy work might not have been any higher than the work they usually produce, however, some of them did produce some great writing and all of the children’s imaginations appeared to be much more stretched, resulting in them generating some fantastic ideas, and their enthusiasm at such a late time in the year really was electrifying.
All in all, a very successful module – and we look forward to using Myst (or similar games-based-learning) in the near future!
It is great to hear Gemma’s perspective on the use of the game with her children and her further reflections. I am sure you will join me in thanking her for taking the time to share it all with us.
In my next “Emerging from the Myst” post I will be getting into the details of how we used the game in the lessons, how this effected planning and the balancing act it all became.